Have you ever walked along streets of your home town or village and received an unexpected, unwanted and inappropriate comment by a stranger passing by? If you are a woman, chances are great that you received a sexist comment. If you are a parent, chances are that those comments are about your child and you really need to deal with it, because you do not want your child to consider this kind of communication normal.
Actually, if we consider things appearing in most of the population normal, that inappropriate communication is normal. But in this case I would prefer to use the word prevailing. I think people in our society need to recognize how hurting even well-meant comments can be.
We mind our own business
Parents with children usually mind their own business, because if you are at least a little like us, we spend most of our capacity and energy on dealing with ordinary tasks with B.’s participation. It can be just walking in the park, going to the shop, shopping at the local farmer’s market, or anything else. We are really just minding our own business.
The first time I remember something annoying happened was at our local farmer’s market. B. was about one year old, we were buying some fruits and vegetables. The market was overcrowded and we tried to pass through a narrow corridor. A retired couple passed by and the woman decided to address B. with a question: “Are you for sale too?” I was speechless, M. reacted with his angry and aggressive voice: “No, he is not for sale!” The couple was shocked by M.’s response. Really? Why does she consider it appropriate to ask something like that? We are not traffickers, we are parents just minding our own business!
B. was running around a nearby standing man with a dog. Of course, he was curious about the dog and observed him. Suddenly a man, probably uncomfortable by being observed, felt an urge to talk to B. At first he asked me, whether he is a girl or a boy, because his clothes did not “tell” him. Firstly, I was glad that I managed to dress him in the way people cannot recognize his sex, secondly, I was sad that he (and many other people too) need to know sex before interacting with a child. “How can one know, if it is a boy or a girl when not dressed accordingly?” “No one needs to know. It is not necessary.” “Then how can I talk to a child when I do not know?” “It is not necessary to know.” I did not answer his question about B.’s sex and we left after a while.
One of the sellers always has comments on B. Usually she starts with a question, whether he is a boy or a girl. She does not remember… This is a question I usually answer by saying B’s name. He is not just a boy or just a girl, he is the whole personality! “Oh, you are so pretty. And those blue eyes! And what is it in your hand?” These are unwanted comments – why do some people feel authorized to comment on someone else’s appearance? When B. does not answer: “And why don’t you answer? Are you shy or ashamed? Oh, he is so cute!” Labeling is so common. And then towards me: “I have many children clothes at home, young lady, I will bring them for you next week. Do you want?” “No, thank you. We have enough clothes.” “But they are so nice, like new, my granddaughter hardly wore them. Next week I will bring them for you. Your little one may wear them.” “Goodbye.” Sometimes there is no other way to quit the conversation but leave.
Another day I was buying blueberries and M. and B. carrots on the other side of the aisle when I heard M.’s angry voice. I turned around and he was angrily talking to a woman passing by. Later he told me that the woman just came to B., stroked his hair and said something like this: “Your hair is beautifully blonde!” B. did not expect anyone to touch him at that moment, especially not a stranger. She intruded his intimate space, made a comment about his appearance and even felt insulted.
After many experiences like this on the farmer’s market last summer we decided to order our food from local farms and providers directly to our home. People can be so annoying, making you change your way of life!
We went for a family walk. We unexpectedly found few puddles, but B. was not dressed to play in them. So we warned him that if he goes to a puddle again we will need to go back home immediately, as his shoes will be soaked with water. After few steps he tried if we really mean it. We did. We were heading back with him screaming, crying and furiously jumping around us. A man went by and asked him: “Who is it singing here?” Adding few more comments about B.’s crying. B. did not understand why singing when he was crying, evidently upset. M. asked him to let us be.
We continued in our way back, B. recovered from an unwanted comments after a while and continued in expressing his anger and frustration. Then a group of people passes by and a woman asks B., still crying, whether he is coming with them. He looked at them and froze. M. replied angrily: “No, he is not coming with you!” Why do people think it would help anyone to ask question like this? Did those people feel intimidated by B.’s crying to try to hush him no matter how? Did they try to help us to have a quiet child? We were trying to stay calm with B.’s feelings expressions and all those people literally made it so much more difficult. I think majority of parents try to teach their children to not leave with any stranger for safety reasons. Passers by, judge us, if you need to, but let us mind our own business!
We were in the park. There were ducks swimming in the pond and B. wanted to get closer to them. So we parked the stroller and B.’s airplane at the side of the path and walked about ten meters down to the pond. We looked back to the path to check on who was passing by. A man looked at B.’s airplane and towards us and asked with a smile: “May I steal your airplane?” Really? Why did he think it is all right to ask someone to steal something what belongs to that person? B. does not understand the concept of stealing, so I decided to not to respond, because I could hardly hear the question. I am sure B. did not hear and understand the question. But he has a sense for situations like this – he usually withdraws. It happened then too – he left the pond, took his airplane and continued in our walk. The comment of that man interrupted his play and left us in negative mood.
We meet some people quite often as they live in our neighborhood. Once we went for a walk, B. had his doll stroller. And a man from our neighborhood approached us, and a with a debonair smile he asked B. what he has in his stroller. B. just looked at him and was quiet. I told him that if he does not want to answer, he does not have to and he can even say that. We walked away without any further communication with a man. Just few minutes later a woman criticized B. for covering his doll’s head with a blanket, that the doll would suffocate. Back then B. was not even two years old and he cared for a doll really nicely – stroked, kissed, fed and covered it with a blanket so the doll is not cold. And yes, I saw he covered the doll’s head, but come on! It is a doll! And he did it by himself! And it was his idea!
Another time we met the man with the debonair smile again. B. was riding his balance bike and the man asked him something again. B. froze, was looking at him for a while. The man was confused and looked at me and at him again, asked the question again. Then B. turned around and said: “Alone.” I was unutterably proud of my little B. – he expressed his will and articulated it with words he was able to use back then. The man got even more confused because he did not understand him. So I “translated” for him: “He said – alone. He wants to be alone.” And we left.
We met him again. I was strapping B. into a rear bicycle seat of my bicycle when he stopped next to us. He needed to tell me how he admires me how I skillfully strap B. into his seat. I did not answer I just got on my bicycle and left. Some may think how rude I am but it does not seem to me. I just want to focus on what I do – packing groceries and B. impatiently waiting next to me on the sidewalk nearby a busy road and using all the bicycle safety equipment. My mind has enough to do I am not able to do more. And also there was something the man had not any idea about. He admired me for strapping B. into his seat which I considered an absolute triviality in the context of B.’s behavioral issues we had at home for last weeks. I do much more than strapping him safely into his seat!
We were coming back home from a playground. B. did not want to leave so he was crying. I held and stroked his hand while huge tears of disappointment were running down his cheeks. An older woman was approaching us and I got ready. She did not loose a chance: “Such a pretty boy and he is crying like this!” I replied: “He is pretty also when he is crying.” “Really?” I imediatelly reassured B. that it is allright when he cries and that I love him also when he cries. I know he does not want to go home and he is sad because of that. I tolde him I love him several times.
Once I needed to have my bicycle serviced and I took B. with me. He was holding on to a down tube and asked me questions about the bicycle all the way. I was amazed how interested he was but I got tired quite quickly. After leaving my bicycle in the repair service, we had a rest on the nearby playground. It was difficult for B. to leave, he cried, he run back to the playground or away from me. It was on the busy street so for safety reasons I could not lose time and react to comments of two groups of people. B. was unhappy of leaving the playground and was crying. Strangers in the street probably could not bare it, there were even people shouting at us from the other side of the road!
People are allowed to say almost what they want. However, I still need to find my voice, ways and words how to protect myself and my family. It is interesting that all of the interactions mentioned above were with older people, retired people. It is probably a reminder how the society has changed. But why are some people stuck in old ideas? Why they do not listen? Why they do not respect?
I usually immediately react on someone else’s comments (at least just for B.) so B. has my point of view about the situation and also strangers hear that their remarks are not aligned with our values. It is hard to raise a child differently then what a societal majority approaches are. People expect children to behave, behave politely, respectfully, but how can they learn to be like that, when other people treat them disrespectfully?
Of course, I am not perfect in communicating with people, nor with B., but I educate myself in this aspect of life and I feel my communication with others became more respectful, assertive, clear and effective. This is my journey, this is what I need to progress in and I think that is why these situations come into my life.